Tuesday, July 24, 2012

becoming jane

Because I am a glutton for punishment, I read the fragment of Jane Austen's unfinished novel The Watsons again, about a month ago. I knew I shouldn't have done it. It was devastating to get to the end of the few chapters and have to stop - it wasn't perfected, but it was so promising, and I am so sad that she decided not to finish it!

It was bugging me all day, and I ended up googling. I know it's silly, but I thought there was the slightest chance that SOMEONE, somewhere, might have written an ending to the novel that wasn't terrible, and if they had, I was going to read it. Austen had told someone - I think her sister - a few things about what would have happened in the novel, had she finished it, and so I hoped that this might mean that the story wouldn't be ruined completely.

I found a reference to this book pictured above on a blog somewhere - it's out of print and rather hard to get hold of - a continuation of The Watsons, written by a John Coates in 1958. I was lucky enough to find a very cheap copy on a website somewhere, and thought 'what have I got to lose?'

I must admit that when the book arrived in the post a couple of weeks ago I started to worry. What if it was terrible, and it ruined the fragment for me? The blurb on the back cover certainly didn't allay any fears. However, I used this weekend to read the book, and fortunately it wasn't a bad way to spend the weekend!

Now - Mr Coates is certainly no Miss Austen. Reading this book was actually an interesting exercise for me because it brought out Austen's skills that cannot be copied. The tightness of her plots is never something I've paid particular attention to before, but this plot was far too circuitous and made me recognise how skilfully she winds up and unravels her stories. The characterisations, needless to say, were lacking. It wasn't as funny, although it tried to be.

To be fair, however, this is all in comparison. The book I read over the weekend was enjoyable. There was something of a spark about it. And it somewhat satisfied the hunger I had to find out what would become of the Miss Emma Watson of Jane Austen's fragment. I was glad to have read it, and I may even read it again someday. It was like reading a really good piece of fanfiction. I commend Mr Coates for the attempt - he is a brave man - and I think I would recommend his continuation to someone who is suffering from the same sorrow as I after reading the fragment.

My advice, therefore: Lower your expectations if you decide to read this book, and then you'll be pleasantly surprised. If your expectations are too high you may find it difficult.

Three stars from me.

Margaret Mahy

I am very sad to see the passing of Margaret Mahy.

She was one of those authors who stands alone, who doesn't need comparison to anyone else and who is so unique and charming and imaginative that she is memorable to every one who reads her work.

Margaret Mahy was one of the first authors who taught me that children's literature can set the bar enormously high for all the literature you read from then on and into your adulthood. She taught the world that children are to be respected and are worthy of the prolific life work of a genius.

Margaret Mahy was one of the first authors I ever read who presented my own country and my own people to me.

Margaret Mahy was not afraid to be colourful and unique and eccentric. I could still learn a lot from the way she lived life.

Her YA novel The Tricksters is one of the few novels that is placed firmly on my list of Books That I Think Are Written Perfectly.

She really was a giant to me, as a New Zealander, an aspiring author and a woman.